|Vol. 14 No. 9 September 2012||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
In Luke 17:5, the apostles said, “Lord, increase our faith.” They felt a lot like most of us. “If I had more faith, I could do greater things.” At that point, it is my judgment that most commentaries do not do justice to the lesson Jesus is trying to teach. The ones I remember say something like this, “The grain of mustard seed is small. If you just had a small amount of faith you could do great things.” No doubt this is true, provided some other conditions were met, but it appears to me that his statement is concerned with the other conditions, rather than with the “size” of their faith. Why?
He already admitted they had a little faith (Matthew 8:26; 14:31; 17:20). So, if just having a little faith would allow them to do the “impossible” tasks, then they could have been already doing them. It is not the size of the faith that He emphasized, but the nature or quality of the faith!
That is, I do not think He was saying, “If your faith was as big as even a grain of mustard seed you could do great things,” but “Though you know your faith is small, for you asked for it to be increased, if it were as (not as big as, but had the qualities of) a grain of mustard seed, you could do tasks that seem impossible.” Now, how is a grain of mustard seed? Well, it is small, but that is not the important point, for they already had that kind of faith! The important things are: it has in it a germ of life; it has power to grow; it has power to, and does, appropriate God’s gifts in accordance to His laws, etc.
The point is that they did not need an increase in faith as much as they needed an active, operational faith. If a grain of mustard seed is dead, it does not matter whether it is small or large, because it will produce nothing. Yet, if a grain of mustard seed is alive, active and appropriating the gifts of rain, sunshine and earth, then it will produce greatly. So it is with your faith!
The real truth is that one does not need to pray for an increase in faith. It does not come that way! If a person will have a faith as the mustard seed and do what he or she can, where you are, with what you have, it does not matter whether it is big or little, it will grow, and with its increase, it will produce “exceedingly abundantly above all that you are able to ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer… I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isaiah 43:14-15). Although we do not generally associate God’s redemption with Eden, the connection is there. We spend a lot of time painting God as a Redeemer King, seeking to redeem His people from sin and restore an intimate relationship with them. It is significant that Isaiah tied God’s kingly attributes to His creative purpose and redemptive plan. The King is the Creator. The Creator is the Redeemer. The Redeemer is the King. All three are tied together, and it is very important that we see the connections between these three, because they all take us back to Eden.
As much as God is Creator of Israel, He is Creator of the entire world. On the sixth day, God, the Creator, created humans and placed them in Eden. Eden was God’s first kingdom – it was there that His people were to dwell, living in agreement with His will. God’s first humans did not live by His will, so they were ejected from Eden. The rest of history has been the story of God redeeming people back from what the first humans started.
Adam and Eve fell, and Israel did not live righteously. So God brought forth Jesus, His ultimate plan to restore the atmosphere of Eden. There are plenty of others, but I want to highlight for you two passages that make this very clear, Ephesians 4:17-24 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. In Ephesians 4, Paul spent a good amount of ink teaching the Christians that they should not live as the Gentiles lived, using words like “futile,” “alienated,” “ignorant,” “blind,” “greedy” and “unclean“ to describe them.
Then, he told them how they should behave themselves. “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24).
Did you catch the Eden language? Instead of living as the Gentiles, those without God, Paul taught them to live like they were created in God’s image. In fact, the rest of the chapter is Paul’s discussion of how they were to leave their former conduct and live as God’s image bearers. Jesus was the catalyst. Because they had learned about Him (Ephesians 4:20), they knew how to live as God’s image. Because of His work, they had been redeemed, and it was time they started acting like it. In other words, they needed to start seeking God’s kingdom above all. They were His people, but they were still living like the godless Gentiles.
Now for 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. Paul spent most of his time in this section talking about God’s redeeming purpose, how He reconciled us back to Himself and how Christians should work to redeem others from sin, reconciling them to God. In short, Paul spent a lot of time teaching people the need to restore the Eden-like atmosphere. Before the section about redemption and reconciliation, take a look at how Paul introduced the topic: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Did you see it? To introduce topics like redemptions and reconciliation, Paul went back to the place where it all began, Eden. Jesus was there (John 1:1-3), and just as God used Jesus to create the universe and place people in Eden, He counts on Jesus to make new creations (Christians). Jesus was and is God’s plan for redeeming humans from sin and reconciling us back to Himself. Yet, God’s redemptive purpose does us no good if we do not allow Him to redeem us, to be our King. We cannot claim Him as our King if we do not seek His kingdom above all. That was Jesus’ message when He came upon the scene.